Monday, January 30, 2012

Monsters in the Movies

I recently came across a terrific interview with John Landis on an episode of The Treatment. He was promoting Monsters in the Movies, his new book on the evolution of movie monsters. A lot of the stuff we assume comes straight from Old Country folklore is actually the clever invention of 20th century screenwriters. For example, sunlight wasn't harmful to vampires until Nosferatu came along. Maybe a hundred years from now, all movie vampires will sparkle... *shudder*

It's definitely something I'll be checking out when time permits...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

2012 Nicholl Fellowships Competition

Well, it's that time again. The Nicholl folks are now accepting entries. It feels like my 2011 elimination e-mail was just yesterday. Come on, Scream. Positive thoughts... My werewolf spec had a good run in other screenwriting contests but never cracked the Nicholl Quarterfinals. After three attempts, I won't be submitting it this year.

I've fallen a little behind schedule with my intended submission,  a monster-free supernatural thriller. I'm currently somewhere in the middle of the second draft. No major plotting issues, just trying to smooth out the execution. I'd like to have the heavy lifting completed before the early deadline, then a month of tweaking before actually submitting in sometime in April. Speaking of deadlines, a couple changes from previous years:

Early deadline is now March 15th, regular is May 1st.
Entry fees have gone up: $35 (early), $52 (regular)

The payout has gone up from $30k to $35k

Also, first round scripts will be now be read by two different readers. I like this change. You're not longer at the mercy of a sole reader who just doesn't get your obvious brilliance — I mean, Grandma LOVED it!

Good luck!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


A few quick thoughts on the preview:

12 Million viewers, thanks in part to American Idol, ain't too shabby. We'll see if they come back for the official launch in March.

Aside from knowing the basic premise: an autistic kid who can see how everything is connected (past, present and future), I really hadn't thought about Touch's format as an ongoing series. Little Jake comes up with some seemingly random numbers and it's up to his dad Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) figure out what they mean. Danny Glover and Gugu Mbatha-Raw have supporting roles as mentor and social worker/potential love interest respectively.

Even though he's not playing Jack Bauer, Kiefer always brings the intensity. I got a little bored in the middle, but it was fun watching all the pieces come together at the end.  Unapologetically schmaltzy but also effective. I gave it a slight edge over the Alcatraz pilot.

There's a passing resemblance to Person of Interest going on here -- a weekly mystery connected to numbers -- except that POI aims for our heads, while Touch tugged relentlessly at the ole heart strings and it worked for the most part. But I do wonder if there's enough going on to keep audiences engaged on a weekly basis. POI has lots of little mysteries to go along with the standalone episodes.

Hopefully, Touch will establish an ongoing mythos, but nothing too convoluted. We all remember how Heroes started off so strongly -- only to crash and burn a few seasons later. It'll be interesting to see what lessons Tim Kring learned.

Monday, January 23, 2012

STEP 6 (Monday, Week 4):

Now you’re structured with a 40-60 scene story based on the idea that was in your head 2 weeks ago and is now a registered treatment. It is now time to write your first draft. It is no longer as intimidating as having an idea and facing 90-120 blank pages.

Start on Tuesday with writing only Scene 1. Spend 15-20 minutes per day. No more. If scene 1 types into 1/2 page or 3 pages it doesn’t matter. Just write Scene 1 and stop. Wednesday write Scene 2. Thursday write Scene 3. I bet that come Friday, now that you’re structured, you are no longer scared of the blank page and actually enjoy writing scene-by-scene. I further bet that you call in sick from work on Friday and stay home and write 10-15 scenes of 20-30 pages. Saturday the same. Sunday, go to church and pray for the ability to have good dialogue and believable characters. Then on Monday (Week 3) you will have your first draft finished in the next 3-4 days.

A first draft is written, step-by-step in 3 weeks, with 6 easy-to-follow steps. Now remember, "Nothing is written; it’s re-written." All that you have is a first draft. Send this, like your treatment, with $20 and have it registered at the Writer’s guild, and start your re-write.

Done. Not sure if I'll be able to reach the suggested top speed of  10-15 scenes a day, but I'll give it a shot. I'm someone who's used to winging it off a very loose outline, but I can see the advantages all this prep work. It's nowhere as restrictive as I imagined. Treatments aren't a total waste of time! Suddenly, Act II seems a little more manageable. They're going to be a standard part of my m.o. from now on. I'll post a progress report in a week... 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

STEP 5 (Sunday, Week 4):

Now let’s get organized for your first draft. Create a structured outline. Great writers say there are 40-60 scenes in a movie. No one really knows how many there are. I advise renting a couple of movies you really enjoy and counting the scenes. Whatever number you come up with, that is the rhythm you seem to enjoy. Let’s say you came up with 40 or 50 scenes. Then on a large piece of paper, write down the numbers 1-40 or 1-50. Then fill in each scene (chronological order) with 7-10 descriptive words. Start with Scene 1 and a problem. Scene 2 introduces a protagonist. Scene 3 introduces the antagonist, etc. Don’t go exactly down the page. Skip around. Go to scene 40 or 50 and write the ending. Scene 39 and write the great car chase. Scene 38 and write why the car chase is about to happen. Then go to your 4-6 "Uh-Ohs" and "Oh-Shits" and write them in Scenes 10, 20, 30, 35, etc. Now fill in the other scene numbers with what are called B stories.

Voila!! In 1-3 days you have filled in an open ended jigsaw puzzle and created a story with 40-60 scenes, that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, with 4-6 major crises and several back stories. Your idea is now a fully fleshed out story.

Now where was I again??

I was sidetracked for while and then my sidetrack got sidetracked. I wasn't satisfied with my treatment so I went back and (eventually) came up with something more intimate or claustrophobic — take your pick. I also gave the title an extreme makeover.

On another positive note/sidetrack, I received two script requests last week for the werewolf spec. Did some minor tweaking before sending it out.

A script in three weeks is obviously out of the question at this point. Honestly, it was never a reality to begin with. But I did complete Step 5. Ready for Step 6 tomorrow...

Sunday, January 08, 2012

STEP 4C (Sunday, Week 2):

Now let’s write the big middle. The beginning is short (half a page). The ending is also short (half a page). It’s the big middle that is what all storytelling is about. So now you are going to fill in the bottom half of page 1, all of page 2, and the top half of page 3 with your middle. Writing instructors claim that the middle (AKA: Act II) is where most stories fall apart. I agree.

So let’s fill up the middle with interesting events. Writing instructors call these plot points. I call them the "Oh-Shits" and the "Uh-Ohs". There are about 4-6 points in a movie about 15-20 minutes apart, after Act I, where things seem to be advancing and then dramatically fall apart. These are the "Oh-Shits" and the "Uh-Ohs".

Come up with 4-6 of these. Make each a small paragraph, in chronological order, and fill in the bottom half of page 1, all of page 2, and the top half of page 3. Re-write it into 3-5 pages. Put on a title sheet. Take it, along with $20, to the Writer’s Guild of America and register it. You have now written your first treatment.

Mission accomplished! My treatment is done. It's ugly and clumsy in some spots, but in no way a complete waste of time. Although story isn't fully formed, I can see how the pieces will fit together. It's much more coherent than I expected. I'll probably make some revisions before moving on to STEP 5.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

STEP 4B (Saturday, Week 1):

Now go to page 3 and write the ending of your movie. You should, hopefully, know how your movie ends. This should be no more than 1-2 paragraphs and occupy the bottom half of page 3. Now don’t forget the big car chase.

Okay, first stumbling block. I completed my ending, but I'm not happy with it. The stakes aren't big enough and I don't have a good feel for the characters. It's tough to put them in certain situations when I haven't completely figured out their motivations — and I kinda suck at mapping out endings. I usually have a strong inkling of how the story will play out, but it can take a while before that final scene materializes.

Maybe I'm over thinking it. Perhaps I should go for something more generic like:

After a thrilling car chase, the bad guys are thwarted, the girlfriend is rescued and the good guys win.

Meh. This step will be revisited...

Friday, January 06, 2012

STEP 4A (Friday, Week 1):

Write one paragraph, 3-4 long, run-on (if needed) sentences. Write the beginning. On the first half of page 1, in double-spaced typing, write the 5 W’s and 1 H. Who. What. Where. When. Why. How. Describing who’s in the story, what’s happening, where it’s happening, when it’s happening, why it’s happening and how it’s happening. Remember, no more than one paragraph covering half of page 1. You have now typed your beginning.

You know the routine by now. I typed my beginning and now I'm done for the day. I don't feel especially productive, but I am starting to see the value of an exercise like this. Chipping away at a daunting task through the use of simple goals, planning and consistency. Kind of like poor Andy Dufresne and his tiny rock hammer in The Shawshank Redemption — 'cept I don't want to spend 19 years working on this script!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

STEP 4 (Thursday, Week 1):

Write the treatment. No one knows how many pages a treatment should be. I have heard as short as 3-5 pages and as long as 30-50 pages. So let’s start with writing a 3-5 page treatment. Guess what, it gets easier. Treatments are typed double space so you’re really only going to write 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pages. All movies are the same. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Haven’t you heard that 20 times by now? So take 3 pieces of blank paper. Call page 1 "The Beginning," page 2 "The Middle," and page 3 "The End."

Done. I feel like an impatient Ralph Macchio (or Jaden Smith) in The Karate Kid. When do I start writing lots of stuff?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

STEP 3 (Wednesday, Week 1):

Write 15-25 words. Another 300% increase in writing. We’re just zipping along. Now type the TV logline. Condense your story into 15-25 words (protagonist, antagonist, or good guy/bad guy, situation, and problem) so that it can fit into TV Guide. If it can’t fit into TV Guide then how is anyone going to know to turn the TV onto your movie some night. Also, if you can’t get the story down to 15-25 words, there can’t be “word of mouth.”

Done. Now I don't claim to be some kind of logline savant, but they usually don't give me a lot of trouble.

And while I'm not going to post my logline for all the world to see, I will say that it has something to do with an alien invasion.

So far so good. The next few days will be interesting because outlines/treatments have never been my strong suit -- which probably explains much of my second act hand-wringing. I start with a light framework that includes the major beats, but then I wing it as I go along. We'll see what happens...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

STEP 2 (Tuesday, Week 1):

Write 5-9 words. This is a 300% increase in writing over yesterday but I know you can handle it. Write the theme. Squeeze it into 5-9 words (AKA: “men are truly evil beings,” or “boys & girls can’t be buddies because of sex,” or “siblings are born to be rivals,” etc.) and type it. Next, cut it out and scotch tape it onto your keyboard or typewriter or screen. Thus, when you go to write your script you will always be reminded to keep it flowing through the 5-9 word theme.


"Man is his own worst enemy."

The theme of my script usually manifests after the first draft is complete. Felt weird doing it the other way around.  Check out this great article by Bill Martell on Theme and Emotional Conflict.

Monday, January 02, 2012

STEP 1 (Monday, Week 1):

My first day into Dov S-S Simens' Write A Screenplay In 3 Weeks exercise.

Write 1-3 words. Type the title. I think you can handle 1-3 words. Now write the title. That’s it. Nothing more.


Well, that wasn't too hard. Already fighting an urge to change it...

Sunday, January 01, 2012


What better way to kick off 2012 than with a new screenplay? This article about writing a script in 3 weeks has me intrigued. 15-25 minutes a day? Even I can do that. Yes, the end result is going to be terrible, but that's the case with most first drafts.

My Achilles Heel has always been paralysis by analysis, so I'm more than willing to see if this will work. I've always liked writing under deadlines. And it would be cool to develop the ability to churn out 4-5 polished scripts by the end of the year. Not Max Landis levels of productivity, but still somewhat respectable. At any rate, I've already settled on an idea for script number one: found footage sci-fi/horror. Nothing too complicated. Not sure if it will crack 90 pages.

Day One of this exercise officially begins tomorrow. I'll try to post daily updates...

BTW, you're more than welcome to play along.


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